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Citing Westar Bribery Plan, Public Citizen Calls on Tauzin, Barton to Recuse Themselves from Energy Bill Negotiations

Sept. 11, 2003

Citing Westar Bribery Plan, Public Citizen Calls on Tauzin, Barton to Recuse Themselves from Energy Bill Negotiations


Group Also Calls for Lawmakers to Open Energy Bill Conference to Public

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) should recuse themselves from leadership and participation in the energy bill conference committee because of their involvement in Westar Energy’s plan to bribe lawmakers last year, Public Citizen said today.

In a letter to Tauzin and U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, both of whom are chairing the energy bill conference committee, Public Citizen also called for the conference to be open to the public because energy policy is too important to be hammered out in backroom deals with no oversight from those who will be most affected by it.

“Americans have witnessed repeated scandals, bankruptcies and system breakdowns in the energy sector over the past several years – from Enron’s massive accounting fraud and cynical manipulation of the West Coast energy markets to the recent blackout in the Northeast,” the letter said. “In some cases, the scandals have been the direct result of lax government oversight or legislative and regulatory exemptions that were obtained through lobbying and campaign contributions.”

Last year, Reps. Tom DeLay, Tauzin and Barton inserted and defended language not included in either the House- or Senate-passed bills that provided an exemption from federal law for a single company, Westar. According to internal company e-mails released after a later federal fraud investigation of the company, Westar schemed to obtain the exemption by sending more than $60,000 to campaigns and fundraising organizations affiliated with DeLay, Tauzin and Barton, as well to the campaigns of congressional Republican allies of the three (Westar’s CEO has since been convicted of six unrelated felonies).

A top Westar executive wrote in a May 2002 e-mail that the company’s plan “requires working with the Conference committee to achieve. We have a plan for participation to get a seat at the table…DeLay is the House Majority Leader. His agreement is necessary before the House Conferees can push the language we have in place in the House bill. [Illinois Republican Rep. John] Shimkus is a close associate of Billy Tauzin and Joe Barton, who are key House Conferees on our legislation. They have made this request in lieu of contributions made to their own campaigns.” Westar’s top executives and the company’s DC lobbyists sent more than $60,000 to the politicians identified in the e-mails.

“Because of their actions last year regarding Westar, Billy Tauzin and Joe Barton are tainted and should not be involved in this year’s energy conference committee negotiations and decisions,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The citizens of the United States are entitled to feel confident that our democratic processes will not be corrupted by the selling of legislative favors.”

Public Citizen also called on the House-Senate energy conference committee to explicitly forbid lawmakers from writing legislation that benefits a single company and hold the entire proceedings in a venue open to the media and the public. In addition, to ensure that the public does not endure another “blackout,” the conference committee should hold every meeting in which two or more conference committee members discuss the legislation in a forum accessible to the public and the media, Public Citizen said.

Public Citizen sent a detailed narrative along with the letter. Click here to read the letter, click here to read the narrative.